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“Astonishing”-ly Cruel

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Y’know, I’m a nice guy. I like being a nice guy. I don’t mean to say that I’m perfect or that I’ve never done wrong by anyone, but in general, I’m kind to most people. It’s one of the things I like about being me, and in general it’s worked out pretty well for me, I think.

Except, of course, when it comes to writing fiction.

My niceness unfortunately extends to the characters I’m writing about — I don’t like seeing people in pain, so it’s always been difficult to be the one responsible for causing pain, even if it’s happening to people who exist only inside my head. But I honestly don’t see a big market out there for stories about happy characters who just, I dunno, sit around and talk about how happy they are, characters whose biggest conflicts come in the form of fluffy pillow fights with their best friends.

Man, I managed to bore myself to tears just typing that last sentence.

However, I’m learning. No more Mr. Benevolent Uber-deity for me. This particular lesson, though a common precept of fiction writing, I’m taking from Mr. Joss Whedon because I’ve been thinking quite a bit about his characters recently. See, Joss has no problems thoroughly f*!%ing up his characters, even his favorite ones — hell, especially his favorite ones. He knows, as all (well, most) successful fiction writers do, that you get to the good stuff by throwing adversity at your characters and seeing how they deal with it. That’s when you find out what your characters are really made of — to hell with what they say, what do they do when they’ve just found out that their vampire boyfriend has once again turned into a murderous, insane monster?

All of this is why I’m suddenly very, very afraid for Kitty Pryde and Colossus in Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men.

I’ve watched enough of Whedon’s TV shows (and by that I mean every episode of all three of his series) to know that if there’s one thing he can’t stand, it’s a happy couple. Happy couples exist (usually only temporarily) in the larger Whedonverse specifically so that he can destroy them, tear them to shreds and see if they give up or come back together stronger than before. And right this very second, Kitty and Peter are happy, having just gotten together for the first time after years and years of being kept apart by small obstacles like other lovers, being on opposite sides of the ocean or one of them being dead.

So something very, very bad is about to happen to one — or both — of these two characters I care about.

I sincerely doubt that Joss is going to kill off either character: Kitty’s supposedly his all-time favorite comics character (not that I think that fact alone would stop him from killing her if the story demanded her death) and he just went to a lot of trouble to bring Colossus back from a several-year-long dirt nap. I have absolutely no idea what he’s got planned, though I suspect it’s going to end up being something horrible emotionally rather than physically. Whatever it is, I think it’s a fairly safe (and upsetting) bet that those two won’t be together once Astonishing‘s current story arc is done.

And Joss is willing to do whatever it is he’s got planned for Peter and Kitty because his love for the story is greater than his love for the characters. [1] Whatever he’s going to do to them will reveal a lot about their inner workings, likely in a way that’s obvious in retrospect but hasn’t been considered before. (Remind me to detail for you later the brilliance of what he just did to/revealed about Cyclops. My god.)

I hope I’ve learned this lesson well. Last night, I wrote the first draft of a scene that would come toward the end of Act 2 of the ginormous comic book opus I’ve been chewing on for awhile. (Yes, I actually wrote something! No, I can’t post it, sorry.) And while that scene itself isn’t particularly brutal, it immediately follows a scene which clearly must have been, and the implications it has for the story’s characters are dire. Even better? That scene allows me to start setting up some hints and foreshadowing going all the way back to the beginning of the story, plot points and character moments I had no idea would be necessary until last night.

My point, if I have one? Be cruel to your characters and they’ll be good to you.

[1] I’ve talked about this topic before in relation to Whedon’s movie Serenity; if you’ve seen the movie or can deal with serious spoilers, please go check out that article. I was proud of that one.

Written by Allen

May 24th, 2006 at 8:51 pm